Since the outbreak began in December, there have been over 45,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and at least 1,115 deaths. But while 2019-nCoV has spread to at least 24 countries beyond China, nearly all of the COVID-19 cases and all but one death have occurred in China.It's reported that the Japanese quarantine worker wasn't wearing highly protective clothing for high biosafety level areas, just wearing a mask and gloves. He was handing out questionnaires and checking the health of passengers and crew members.
According to the latest figures from the WHO, 44,730 cases are confirmed in China, while a remaining 444 are outside the country—including the 175 cases linked to the Diamond Princess. The tally is by far the largest outside of the outbreak’s epicenter; the country with the next-largest COVID-19 outbreak is Singapore, with 50 confirmed cases, according to WHO.
Assuming passengers don't jump overboard and find ways to get back onshore (always easier at a dock than when miles at sea), this seems like a good opportunity to study the virus. It could allow study of how long the virus survives on surfaces, and how effectively it spreads. This is an isolated population, after all. Patient zero, the first patient to contract the virus on the ship, is known:
Screening for COVID-19 on the ship began after a previous guest tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong on February 1. The man, who is from Hong Kong, boarded the Princess January 20 in Yokohama at the start of a 14-day round-trip voyage. The man sailed a leg of the voyage before disembarking during a stop in Hong Kong on January 25. Meanwhile, the ship sailed on. Upon news that the guest tested positive on February 1, the Diamond Princess returned to Yokohama a day early and has been quarantined ever since, with guests in isolation in their cabins.I suspect that most of you have been reading what Aesop at Raconteur Report posts about the virus, like this one. I sure have. Having an isolated population like this might be a good way to study this virus and perhaps reduce the uncertainties that seem to apply to just about every characteristic. There are 3,711 people on board the Diamond Princess; Reuters reports that roughly 80 percent of the passengers (over 2,900) are aged 60 or older, with 215 being in their 80s and nearly a dozen over 90. Those age groups have been among the most vulnerable demographics in the outbreak overall. If those same percentages apply to the 175 cases and 80% of the cases (140 people) are over 60 years old, I'm afraid that will be where the largest number of deaths come from.
It is still unclear when and where the man from Hong Kong became infected and how the virus has spread among people on the ship. It may be that the outbreak involved a so-called “super-spreader,” which means that a single infected patient sheds the virus extremely efficiently and infects an inordinate number of people. But again, it is unclear how many people may have brought 2019-nCoV aboard and how—or if—the 175 cases are all linked.
The Diamond Princess at dock in Yokohama. Getty Images photo.